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Condemned to valley fever

July 16, 2013

by Donald Ray Young

Another death sentence, valley fever, combined with the lack of constitutionally adequate medical care, has resulted in 62 known deaths since 2006 within the California prison industrial complex.

Gov. Jerry Brown recently announced that California state prisoners have the finest health care system in the world, negating the need for federal oversight. At least two Central Valley prisons – Avenal and Pleasant Valley – have become death traps on Jerry Brown’s watch.

Kevin Walker
According to Rebecca Plevin, writing for the Reporting on Health Collaborative in a story headlined “Just One Breath: Valley Fever Turns Short Prison Terms Into Lifelong Penalties,” Kevin Walker arrived at a federal prison in the Central Valley in 1999 “to serve a 14-year sentence for attempted possession of cocaine. … In July 2001, fluid-leaking boils broke out across Walker’s face and body. Once he was diagnosed with valley fever, doctors put him on an antifungal drug” that caused his kidneys and liver to begin failing. Though switched to another drug and transferred to a prison in Texas, the disease “spread throughout his body, even into his bone marrow. Boils, then holes, developed on his spinal column and clavicle. ‘That 14-year sentence turned into a life sentence,’ said Walker, who was released from prison in 2010, ‘because I have this disease for life, and no one has accepted responsibility for putting me in that situation.’”
J. Clark Kelso, the federal medical receiver, appointed by U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson to oversee the California state prison health care system, ordered Jerry Brown and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to immediately transfer 3,300 prisoners at high risk of infection or death from valley fever. Jerry Brown rejected this April 29 directive to save lives and instead opted to play politics with morbid consequences.

This matter was heard in the U.S. District Court on June 17 before Judge Henderson. On June 24 he ordered Gov. Brown and CDCR to remove all high risk prisoners from Avenal and Pleasant Valley state prisons. They have 90 days to complete the court ordered transfers.

“Defendants (Gov. Brown and CDCR) have therefore clearly demonstrated their unwillingness to respond adequately to the health care needs of California’s inmate population, which is particularly ironic given Defendants’ insistence in other court filings that they are now providing a constitutional level of care,” Judge Henderson stated.

Over 80 percent of the prisoners who have died due to valley fever have been African American. Kelso reported that African American prisoners in Avenal and Pleasant Valley State Prisons have a 90 percent risk of contracting valley fever and prisoners older than 55 have a 60 percent risk.

According to Joyce Hayhoe, spokesperson for the federal receiver, CDCR has known that African American prisoners have the highest risk of contracting and dying from valley fever. California prisoners are paying the ultimate penalty for being African American and over 55. In CDCR, valley fever minus health care plus racism and ageism equals death.

Born and raised in the Central San Joaquin Valley, I played in this fungus tainted dust bowl. I attended West Hills College in the town of Coalinga a decade before Pleasant Valley Prison was erected within its borders. I know this place of diseased soil, and I understand Jerry Brown’s prison industrial complex from the inside out.

The receiver was put in place to stop preventable deaths caused by the lack of heath care. Gov. Brown and CDCR do not appear to believe prisoners deserve health care, or any kind of care.

California prisoners are paying the ultimate penalty for being African American and over 55. In CDCR, valley fever minus health care plus racism and ageism equals death.

CDCR’s severe overcrowding resulted in constitutionally inadequate medical and mental health care. On May 23, 201l, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ruling by a three-judge panel requiring CDCR within two years to reduce its population to 137.5 percent of capacity. CDCR was at 180% of design capacity.

“We are compelled to enforce the federal Constitution and to enforce the constitutional rights of all persons, including prisoners,” explained the three-judge panel – comprised of U.S. District Judges Thelton Henderson, Lawrence Karlton and Stephen Reinhardt of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Gov. Brown and CDCR do not appear to believe prisoners deserve health care, or any kind of care.

Schools are quietly closing, up and down the state, and teachers receive pink slips. Why so much noise at the idea of shutting down a dangerously poisonous prison?

The Central Valley is addicted to the prison economy. Central Valley communities fought hard to have prisons implanted in their backyard, and they are extremely reluctant to release the cash cow. Even when the prisoners are dying.

Kings County Supervisor Joe Neves says that “the impact on Avenal will be substantial,” but not due to the loss of life. The City of Avenal sells water to the prison.

Dr. John Galgiani, professor of medicine at the University of Arizona and founder of its center to research valley fever, said that this is a “public health emergency” and Avenal and Peasant Valley state prisons must be “shut down.”

Why so much noise at the idea of shutting down a dangerously poisonous prison? The Central Valley is addicted to the prison economy.

Kelso views the response by Gov. Jerry Brown and CDCR to valley fever as “anemic,” while Donald Spector, director of the Prison Law Office and lead attorney in the prison overcrowding lawsuit, Plata v. Brown, describes this as “a toxic environment which causes death.” Condemned to valley fever, another death sentence.

Donald Ray Young is an innocent man, erroneously convicted and sentenced to San Quentin’s death row in 2006. Young is a paralegal with an associate of arts degree in sociology. He hopes to pursue further education, including a law degree that will aid him in achieving his exoneration. His first book is scheduled for release this year, and you can write to him at: Donald Ray Young, E-78474 East Block, San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin, CA 94974.

 

One thought on “Condemned to valley fever

  1. Thomas Couture

    To; Joyce Hayhoe, In regards to Senator Steinbergs request for an extension on Federal court ruling. Typical California legislature, they want an extension so they can do what they should have been doing long ago. Wake-up and do some common sense work for a change. REDUCE the prison population… If you take a realistic look at who you have incarcerated I will almost guarantee that you would have no problem finding non-violent, outstanding behavioral, short termed inmates that would be far less a threat to the people of California then 1/8 of the free population of this great state to meet and even surpass the Federal limits imposed on our prisons… Remember the over-all purpose is to REHABILITATE NOT HUMILIATE!!! The Government of this great state needs to take a note from President Obama's new man heading the Dept of Justice. Out with the old money wasting ideologies and use a little COMMON sense and lets start treating crime in a 21st century manner not the old 19th- 20th centery way of doing things. Good Luck and keep up the good work… They are not just criminals they are people!!! Thank You

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